Bleakney publishes study on impact of writing center consulting

Do writing center consultations actually lead to changes in student writing? Bleakney's recently published article shows that they do.

Julia Bleakney, director of The Writing Center in the Center for Writing Excellence, and assistant professor of English, has published the results of a study on how writing center consultants impact the writing of students who visit the writing center.

Julie Bleakney, director of the Writing Center and assistant professor of English

The article, “Tutor Talk: Do Tutors Scaffold Student Revision?”, published in The Writing Center Journal with co-author Sarah Peterson Pittock, asks a question that is fundamental to writing centers everywhere: do writing center consultations — the conversations between writing consultants and student writers — actually lead to any changes in student writing? Writing center directors, consultants working in the writing center, and faculty who support writing centers all hope that writing centers have this impact, but there is surprisingly little empirical evidence to show if and how they do.

In our study, we replicated a coding scheme developed in Talk About Writing: The Tutoring Strategies of Experienced Writing Center Tutors (Mackiewicz and Thompson, 2018), which draws on the educational framework of scaffolding, to examine how consultants talk with students and what it is about that talk that leads to students making changes to their writing. Our findings, based on analysis of consulting sessions and interviews with writing center clients, show that writing center consultations do lead to students revising their writing directly in response to the conversations they have with their consultant. In some instances, students apply what they discussed regarding one section of their paper to other parts of their paper not directly discussed in the session, showing the capacity of writing center sessions to facilitate transfer of learning.

So many of us who use and recommend the writing center know anecdotally its transformational power for student writers, and we are excited to contribute to evidence-based research that shows this power.